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ART OF THE IRON BRUSH: BAMBOO CARVINGS FROM THE MING AND QING DYNASTIES
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17 Apr 2019 - 28 Jul 2019

Durable, flexible and abundant in nature, bamboo has been used as a material and a subject in Chinese art for millennia. At first woven into baskets, containers and other everyday objects during the Neolithic period, over successive centuries bamboo came to be used in increasingly sophisticated ways, at the same time attaining numerous symbolic meanings. Because it bends in a storm but does not break, it was particularly associated with the integrity and personal virtue of the scholarly elite, who embraced its symbolic value by producing, acquiring and displaying delicate bamboo objects suitable for various scholarly pursuits, such as painting and calligraphy.  

During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), scholarly and imperial patronage transformed bamboo carving into a major art form. Scholar-carvers and workshops centred around Jiading (in present-day Shanghai) and Jinling (now Nanjing) produced large numbers of brush pots, wrist rests, miniature landscapes, figurines and other objects. Many bamboo carvers also worked in other materials soft enough to be manipulated with the ‘iron brush’—a term for knives and other carving tools used by literati to transfer their brushwork aesthetic to other media—including boxwood, rhinoceros’ horns and ivory, which shared a kind of loose identity under the heading of diaoke (‘carving’ in modern Chinese). Small in scale yet teeming with life, these works reflect prodigious technical skill and great imaginary involvement because of the unique shapes and contortions of the materials involved. 

Please click here for exhibition handout.

Click here for more images (Video produced by Learning Environment Services, ITS.)

Education worksheet is available upon request, please fill out the request form here.


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